Alejandro Valverde of Movistar took the stage win in the first stage of the final stretch of racing in the Giro d’Italia. Valverde got the better of maglia rosa Steven Kruijswijk of LottoNL-Jumbo and Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin.
Stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia took the field 133km from Bressanone to Andalo. The stage had three climbs to contend with but the 21km Passo Della Mendola would go a long way to softening up the field before the final two climbs of the Fai Della Paganella and the ramp up to the finish line. The day began with Steven Kruijswijk enjoying a healthy lead of 2.12mins in the general classification. That was very much challengeable though and as it turned out there were no shortage of riders keen to attack the maglia rosa.
It was as if a fuse had been lit in the main field as attack after attack came and went in an effort to shake Kruijswijk. It was not only Kruijswijk who was under pressure, but also Esteban Chaves who began the stage 2nd overall for Orica GreenEDGE. Among the attackers on the first climb were Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali of Astana and Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha. Impressively though Kruijswijk looked composed and confident as he rebuffed each attack made against him.
Chaves looked a little more shaken though as he was dropped a little on the climb of the Mendola, as were Rafal Majka of Tinkoff and Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale; who has just not had anything his way so far. Despite the numbers Cannondale had in the group, the job of pacing back the group was very much on the shoulders of the smiling Colombian. He took his time to do this. losing a minute at first before beginning to bring back the gap on the climb of the Paganella.
The attacks weren’t done though; or rather they weren’t done by Alejandro Valverde. Vincenzo Nibali’s attacks were done though as the Italian found himself without energy to respond to the piercing attack of Valverde with 15km remaining. This was where the major defining move came as Valverde accelerated away with Zakarin and Kruijswijk. They proceeded to race away to a 32 second lead with 12km to go.
Behind the leading trio there was action in the bunch behind as the Nibali group struggled to keep the gap to a minimum. Elsewhere though Esteban Chaves was biding his time and patiently closing the gap himself to the Nibali group. He succeeded partway up the climb and the group found itself swelling somewhat and beginning to close the gap to the front runners. 25 seconds was the gap with 11km remaining. Nibali wasn’t quite done yet though as he pushed the pace before an attack from Esteban Chaves put everyone in the red. The move from Chaves brought the lead of the trio down to 15 seconds with 10 km to go; and while it didn’t succeed in bridging the gap it did rally the chasers a little bit more and assert the fact that he was the strongest in that group.
That fact was emphasised with 9.9km to go up the 2nd category climb up the Paganella as Vincenzo Nibali cracked. Chaves charged on and as they crested the climb it was Chaves and Rafal Majka leading the way to try and catch up. All was not 100% well back in the leaders though as elbows were flicking indicating that the workloads weren’t exactly being shared equally. Kruijswijk didn’t really need to worry though about pushing the pace though as his principle job was to marshall the moves. But he did pull his weight as he needed to with the prospect of taking the stage as well as extending his lead.
Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali really was down and out the back in the company of Domenico Pozzovivo of AG2R La Mondiale. What was a Chaves-Majka duo now became a good group containing Jungels of Etixx-Quick Step, David Lopez of Team Sky and Diego Ulissi of Lampre-Merida as well.
With 3.7km to go Chaves’ group was 26 seconds down on the leading trio, with Nibali’s losses to Valverde heading toward and crossing the minute mark. Chaves was still keen to attack and with 3km he tried again to bring back what he could of the break’s advantage. Up ahead Zakarin was pushing very hard to gain time, with a place in the top 5 and a chance to leap frog Vincenzo Nibali becoming an ever more real possibility. With 2.1km to go the gap to Nibali was growing further to 1.26mins. It appeared that team orders had dictated that Zakarin’s focus should be on riding the front and pretty much purely on time.
Valverde sat up a little and let the Russian work as he had eyes on gaining the stage win; so too did Kruijswijk. Zakarin kept on working at the front and eventually led out the sprint until Valverde came past him with Kruijswijk on his wheel. But the maglia rosa couldn’t come past the Spaniard in his debut Giro and the Spaniard got the stage win. From here the clock started as Chaves led the chase group toward the line. Diego Ulissi of Lampre-Merida and Bob Jungels led them home, with David Lopez and Sergey Firsanov of Gazprom-RusVelo finishing just ahead of Chaves. But it was Vincenzo Nibali who lost the most out of the favourites, coming home 1.47mins down and now in 4th overall with Zakarin now just 7 seconds behind him overall.
Sam Bewley crossed the line and will continue to battle to keep Esteban Chaves on the podium. But tomorrow the attention returns to the sprinters in stage 17; giving the GC riders a little respite.
|1||Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE||ESP||MOVE||2:58:54|
|6||David LOPEZ GARCIA||ESP||SKY||+38|
|8||Johan Esteban CHAVES RUBIO||COL||OGE||+42|
|16||Sebastian HENAO GOMEZ||COL||SKY||+3:20|
|17||Darwin ATAPUMA HURTADO||COL||BMC||+3:20|
|19||Andrey AMADOR BIKKAZAKOVA||CRC||MOV||+3:20|
|23||Andre Fernando S. Martins CARDOSO||POR||CPT||+5:28|
|25||Rigoberto URAN URAN||COL||CPT||+5:28|
|31||Mikel NIEVE ITURALDE||ESP||SKY||+11:24|
|39||Joseph Lloyd DOMBROWSKI||USA||CPT||+14:18|